Elbow Pads publishes fiction up to 500 words, poetry of no more than ten lines, and photography. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
SE: In our submissions, we hope we are getting ourselves into originality, abstractness, and candidness. Works that withhold an authentic display of literary technique usually make it to the accepted pile by a landslide. In our second issue of the second volume, there was a piece that one of our editors enjoyed, commenting, “That’s poetry. You glance the surface and dig into your mind.” We seek a hint of poetry in our prose and a hint of prose in our poetry.
As for abstractness, we long for pieces that make us feel. We like to feel directly affected by the flow and the mood. Words can make readers do anything from feeling light and airy to hurried and abrupt and, as long as the point is made in the end, it works. It needs to feel as effortless as falling in love because falling in love is mostly underhanded yet clear and understandable and strong. It’s almost like a ya-got-me type of thing.
Candidness is very important because we don’t respect filters. This doesn’t mean you have to fill your work with profanity in order to make it “real.” Just keep in mind certain language that provides a sense of realism to make it real. Your art is a representation of you so, when we look at your art, we like to feel like we are looking at you and you are not fooling us with a façade of polished, conformed literature. A tip to good writing is to write exactly how you feel and exactly what you think. If how you are feeling is polished, then so be it; if you are inspired or influenced by greater works of literature, then it isn’t conformity. But do not try to fool us. If you are a fan of Jenna Fischer, you know that she veers from cursing as an actress. Whenever she’s close to saying “ass” she stunts our emotions by saying “butt.” When she’s close to saying “shit” she instead says “crap.” But she is a phenomenal actress because she is persuasively on display. She doesn’t have to do anything extra to prove to us she is talented. She simply exhibits her art and her art is grand.
SQF: What common mistakes do you encounter that turn you off to a submission?
SE: We are fully aware of Muphry’s Law so we don’t give writers too much grief about grammatical and spelling errors. We, ourselves, are guilty of overlooked spacing errors while formatting the magazine and we usually scrap and re-release each issue for every tedious mistake we find. As a result, we understand the frustration when you think everything is perfect and then there’s a missing screw somewhere crucial.
As for following the guidelines, however, there is no excuse. We post what we require in terms of maximum words, file types, and information in the short bio. It is most frustrating when we receive emails with paragraphs describing where the writers graduated from and how many stories they have published. We genuinely don’t care about the caliber of our writers; we care about the writing the writer submitted and how greatly it moved us—that is all.
SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?
SE: We do. We don’t believe in changing any piece and we wouldn’t ask any writer to do that for us. When we are frazzled over the format of a piece, we first ask the writer if it was something that was deliberate. If it was and it is still not for us, we let it be as it is. When a piece is not to our standards, we provide the writer with brief one-liners entailing why we didn’t prefer it. We hope that our statements second as advice for future reference. Perhaps the piece had too many clichés or it “told” too much or it was much too austere. Whatever the quality may have been that didn’t dub it an Elbow Pads feature, we let the contributor know in what we hope is in a graceful and unaggressive manner.
Additionally, and we hate to beat a dead horse, we inform contributors who also did not follow the guidelines that not following the guidelines is typically a deal breaker to most major magazines. Luckily, we appreciate the content more than the presentation (we don’t judge a book by its cover) but we would appreciate knowing that those who submitted did not completely ignore the three paragraphs just above the link they clicked to submit.
SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog?
SE: We absolutely will. When we started, we reached out to underrated writing blogs we felt needed a highlighter. We can’t promise you a thousand more followers on Twitter but marketing is marketing and we all have to start somewhere.
SQF: What do you want authors to know about the stories you reject and how authors should respond? Along this same idea, do you mind if authors reply with polite questions about the comments they receive?
SE: Like any constructive criticism, we hope that the writers take the most out of what we tell them. As experienced and published writers, we know the ins and outs of what more major magazines consider aesthetic. Fortunately, we are a magazine that offers opportunity to a melting pot of technique so aspiring writers should hold high expectations for what we perceive in their writing. In other words, we better understand what they mean like a mother knowing their child so we aren’t as hard of a hard-ass when it comes to technicalities. On the other hand, when offering advice to rejected content, as peremptory as we sound, we know what writers have to do if they’d like to be taken seriously as writers. We still take advice from each other as well as other experienced writers. It’s only natural to pay forward the little yet valuable information we know. If writers are a little on the defensive side, the best neutral advice we can give them is to put it away in their “vault,” reopen it and edit it, and then come back to us when they have made a few changes. Everything could use a little change.
At the same token, we are pleased to hear the writers out. We enjoy hearing back that we got it wrong and that the climax was actually a stream of consciousness and not a run-on sentence. This is constructive criticism to us and, hopefully, it improves our critiquing skills.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
SE: This questionnaire was perfect and what you are doing is perfect.
Thank you, Sarah. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 12/21--Six Questions for L. Lambert Lawson, Publisher/Editor, Kazka Press